Kudos to the junior Senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul. Paul dared to venture where few Republicans do nowadays – he gave a speech at Howard University, the historically black university headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Senator Paul, son of Ron, was the first prominent Republican to actually show up at the HBCU in over twenty years. The last, of course, being former RNC chairman Lee Atwater, who sat on the Howard Board of Trustees before a forced resignation (I could write a whole column on that debacle). And he actually made a richly compelling case for the students to support the Republican Party and conservative policies.
His speech touched on many familiar topics, at least to true students of history. Paul spoke of the historical connection and the long legacy that connects the African-American community and the Republican Party. Indeed a case can be made that the party, which was formed to combat the spread of American slavery, would not be in existence if it hadn’t been for men and women of color. And it was the votes of blacks that sustained the party throughout most of its early history, allowing the party to dominate Presidential and congressional elections. Paul also mentioned the fact that it was the Republican Party, throughout the Reconstruction era, that managed to get the first blacks elected to Congress.
But Paul’s speech was more, much more, than simply a history lesson for the young college students. He spoke out against mandatory minimum sentencing requirements that have sent far more blacks than whites to prison, he courageously dared to question the conventional wisdom concerning the effects of social programs on blacks and he reminded the audience about the history of the Democratic Party and segregation.
But he wasn’t above criticizing his own party. One of the best lines, in my opinion, was the one where he questioned why and how our party managed to elect the first blacks to the Senate and the House of Representatives and yet still lose upwards of 95% of the black today. And that’s a question that truly needs to be answered, and soon, because no party can truly call itself a national party when it performs so miserably to connect with a community.
Hopefully, Paul’s speech this morning will be the much needed start to a conversation between the black community and the Republican Party. Hopefully, there will be many more officials from the GOP who are willing to venture to Howard and other predominately black venues. And hopefully, more blacks will be open and welcoming of these types of overtures. But as they say, hope springs eternal.